By the book: Mobile librarian is Kent employee of year


Frances Gunning stands in front of the Bookmobile, which she drives to various locations including daycare centers, charter schools, senior-housing communities and the Veterans Home. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The Bookmobile, called Lucy by those who know her well, has logged about 97,000 miles.

Since she’s personally responsible for spinning the odometer to its current reading it’s little wonder that librarian Frances Gunning, Lucy’s faithful pilot, was recently selected as Kent County’s employee of the year.

Ms. Gunning has been a Kent County government employee since September 2002 and serves as a library technician at the Kent County Public Library. Her primary duties include assisting library patrons with book and material selection, cataloging and processing library materials and assisting visitors with the public computers and Internet access, but most people know her as the bookmobile driver.

Ms. Gunning is the second from the library to win the state employee of the year honor. The first was Margaret Sethman, a senior bookmobile technician, in 1998.

Excited that the library now has the employee of the year in Ms. Gunning, Hilary Welliver, director of the Kent County Division of Libraries, said that no one has done more for the mobile library.

“Fran is literally the friendly library on the highway,” said Ms. Welliver. “There has never been a more passionate advocate for the bookmobile than her. She is totally dedicated to the mission of the bookmobile — to reach the under-served populations of Kent County.”

The bookmobile is one of two such vehicles in the state, the other being in Sussex County.

Working formerly as a teacher, Ms. Gunning said that if she had realized how much she’d enjoy being a librarian she’d have come to the career sooner.

“I always liked reading, it’s one of the most important things you can do,” she said. “I can really say that I look forward to coming to work every day.”

Believing the library is a place for community in itself, Ms. Gunning feels fulfilled in her work because she can extend those feelings to places they may not have been otherwise.

“The bookmobile ends up creating a community around where the stops are,” she said. “The patrons are meeting up with one another also. It’s an event and a place to come. It’s just fun.”

Frances Gunning sorts books inside the Kent County Public Library’s Bookmobile. Her work serving the community through the mobile library won praise from supervisors and Kent County Levy Court, which named her its employee of the year. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Levy Court selected her for the honor due to the praise she has received from her supervisors for providing superior customer service. The bookmobile’s route includes the Veterans Home, senior housing communities, daycare centers and charter schools. Ms. Gunning makes about three 45-minute stops per day, averaging about 10 patrons per stop (more at schools). Although this route racks up a few hundred miles per week, she’s built a high level of familiarity with her many patrons.

“She knows all of her customers by name and she even calls them if we have any delays,” said Ms. Welliver. “She tailors all the book switch outs directly to the visits that she’ll be making on a given day — knowing exactly what readers are looking for.”

Even in inclement weather, Ms. Welliver says that Ms. Gunning is more reliable than the postal service.

“I’ve dug the bookmobile out of the snow more than a few times,” said Ms. Gunning.

The Milford resident likes mystery novels herself, favoring the writings of novelist, Nevada Barr — best known for her “Anna Pigeon” series.

She’s especially touched when she sees people’s excited faces when the bookmobile arrives, and she has noticed that she’s watched some young patrons grow up over her tenure.

“Just the other day I realized the first time I met one of the little girls who always comes on and picks books for herself and her sister was when her parents brought her on as an infant in a basket,” she said.

The bookmobile draws a lot of attention to the Kent County Public Library and is a useful marketing tool for their services, added Ms. Welliver. The vehicle plays a role in much of the library’s programming, including its successful Arts in the Park series held in Brecknock Park every Wednesday in June through August.

“We’ve been doing it for the past five years and it brings 150 to 200 people to the park every time which is pretty significant,” said Ms. Welliver.

The 2004 diesel engine Ford E-450 was purchased in 2004 with the help of a monetary gift left by two sibling patrons from Hartly, Lucy and Walter Urban, after they died. The bookmobile was later nicknamed Lucy in honor of the donation.

Ms. Gunning isn’t even thinking about retirement or a successor, because she’s more than happy to keep trundling books down the highways as long as she’s able, but Ms. Welliver says that the employee of the year will leave big shoes to fill.

“She’d be very difficult to replace, I don’t know what we’d do,” she said.

However, according to Ms. Welliver, Levy Court members are discussing the possibility of either upgrading Lucy or obtaining a new bookmobile vehicle in the not-to-distant future.

“They’ve only considered it, nothing is decided yet, but a new vehicle would be very exciting,” she said.

Editor’s note: The original story incorrectly stated Ms. Gunning was the first from the library division to win employee of the year.

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